World Council of Churches

A worldwide fellowship of churches seeking unity, a common witness and Christian service

Country profile: Slovakia

"Church & country profiles" for several countries have been developed by the WCC Europe desk ahead of the 2006 assembly. Please note that these profiles are intended to serve as general references, and do not represent official policy positions of the World Council of Churches. The WCC strives to maintain accuracy in its information, but cannot be responsible for any mistakes or outdated information.

01 January 2004

"Church & country profiles" for several countries have been developed by the WCC Europe desk ahead of the 2006 assembly. Please note that these profiles are intended to serve as general references, and do not represent official policy positions of the World Council of Churches. The WCC strives to maintain accuracy in its information, but cannot be responsible for any mistakes or outdated information.

Introduction


The World Council of Churches has a long-standing involvement with churches of Slovakia, and formerly in Czechoslovakia. The WCC collaborates with its member churches in the country, and also with the Ecumenical Council of Churches in the Slovak Republic (ECCSR). WCC and the ECCSR established a Round Table programme in 1996, that involves all 11 member churches of the Council. This church and country profile outlines aspects of church life and church-state relations in Slovakia, and summarizes WCC's programmatic involvement in the country.

General profile and history


Slovakia is a new state populated by old national groups. The majority of the 5.3 million inhabitants of the Slovak Republic are Slovak (86%). Hungarians are the largest ethnic minority (11%), and are concentrated in the southern and eastern regions of Slovakia. Proportionately, Slovakia has the highest population of Roma in the region, estimated at around 500,000 people. Other ethnic groups include Czechs, Ruthenians (or "Rusins"), Germans, and Poles. Recent and sometimes unregistered immigration has been mainly from the poorer Eastern European countries, with significant Russian, Ukrainian, Serb and Bulgarian groups concentrated in the larger cities.

Christianity was first brought to the region in its Eastern form in the 9th century by the Slavic missionary activity of Saints Cyrill and Methodius. From the 11th until the early 20th century, present-day Slovakia was under Hungarian rule, and became a predominantly Catholic territory. The Slovak national revival was begun in the 19th century by intellectuals seeking to revive the Slovak language and culture.

The formation of the Czechoslovak Republic in 1918 following World War I satisfied the common aspirations of Czechs and Slovaks for independence from the Habsburg Empire. On November 17, 1989, a series of public protests known as the "Velvet Revolution" began, and led to the downfall of communist rule in Czechoslovakia. In 1992, negotiations on the new federal constitution deadlocked over the issue of Slovak autonomy, and in the latter half of 1992, agreement was reached to peacefully divide Czechoslovakia into the Czech Republic and the Slovak Republic.

The socio-economic situation remains precarious, although generally better than Slovakia's eastern neighbours. Following important parliamentary elections in 2002, that saw the defeat of the nationalist parties, Slovakia has been accepted as a candidate for both NATO and European Union membership, both of which will have a primary influence on the country's future development. According to Caritas Europa, because of wide-ranging structural reforms, unemployment seriously hampers the economic development of the country.

The unemployment national rate is higher than 20%, and in some regions surpasses 30%. Thus the most endangered groups are long-term unemployed people. Roma people, single parent families, children and large families are other vulnerable categories at risk of poverty. The low level of social and health care has resulted in the fact that the Roma people's average life span is 15 years shorter than the rest of the Slovak population. The education system represents a further weakness, and responds with difficulty to the demands of a global economy. Education is inadequate in the face of the rapid changes of the industrial and information society, which in turn exacerbates youth unemployment, poverty and crime.

Church and religious context


According to the 2001 census, the number of persons who claimed a religious affiliation in Slovakia increased from 72% in 1991 to 84% in 2002. The increase is partly due to the reluctance of some religious groups to declare their religious affiliation in 1991, and partly to the active missionary outreach of churches in Slovakia. The dominant community is Roman Catholic, with 68.9% of the Slovak population of 5.3 million. The member churches of the Ecumenical Council of Churches in the Slovak Republic (ECCSR) together have around 10% of the population: the Evangelical Lutheran Church of the Augsburg Confession is the largest minority, with around 6.9% of the population, followed by the Greek Catholics (4.1%), the Reformed Christian Church (2%) and the Orthodox (just under 1%). There are some non-registered religious groups, mainly consisting of new religious movements or sects. There is some correlation between religious affiliation and ethnicity. The majority of Reformed Christians are ethnic Hungarians, and most Orthodox are ethnic Ruthenian or Ukrainian immigrants.

The main inter-church conflict in Slovakia centred on the disputed property claims of the Orthodox Church and the Greek Catholic ("‘Uniate") Church after 1991. This has largely been resolved with the Orthodox Church building over 100 new church buildings, with some Slovak government financial compensation.

Church-state relations


The relations between church and state in Slovakia are generally positive, and have strengthened in the recent period, according to church leaders. The Church Department of the Ministry of Culture oversees relations between church and state. The Church Department administers the state subsidies to the registered religious communities. It has no authority to interfere with their internal activities. The Ministry also administers a cultural fund that, among other actions, maintains and repairs historical religious buildings. The Ecumenical Council, subsidized by the state, provides an important point of dialogue and representation with the authorities. Public opinion surveys systematically uphold the church as one of the most trustworthy institutions in the country. Recent elections have reinforced the presence of explicitly Christian parties and leaders in the government.

In 2000, the Slovak government signed an international treaty with the Vatican to regulate its relationships with the Roman Catholic Church. The treaty offers significant advantages to the majority church, although this is not challenged by other churches. In April 2002, the government also signed a joint agreement with the 11 registered churches relating to the ECCSR, in an attempt to provide equal status with the Roman Catholics. This national agreement is understood as guaranteeing the recognition, status and financial support of the churches and ECCSR. The support of the state for church schools is also strengthened. Interestingly, there is provision in the agreement (Article 4) which states that "the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Slovak Republic shall assign a diplomatic employee (…) in the international church organizations in Geneva (…) to promote the cooperation of registered churches with international church organizations."

However, there is continued uncertainty about the future financing of clergy and church personnel by the Slovak state, which poses the challenge of economic viability of church structures and their activities. In the opinion of Bishop Julius Filo, head of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Slovakia and president of the Council of Churches, an important indicator of the state's attitude to churches will be when individual agreements are signed with each church. The attitude of the influential Roman Catholic Church will also be significant. However, he feels that it is important to recognize that the churches still have difficulty going beyond a formal level of inter-church contacts to real mutual assistance and collaboration in specific areas.

In 2002, the Assembly of the Ecumenical Council of Churches urged Slovak citizens to support European Union accession. According to the churches, EU enlargement is a challenge for the internal integration of people and churches in Slovakia, and requires churches to accept their common responsibility for the service of the gospel in today's world. According to ECC president Bishop Filo, the churches should develop a form of "spiritual integration" that can contribute to the process of European integration.  

Preparation should not be limited to the economic and political aspects imposed by the European Union. Slovakia should have her own list of objectives in the integration process. According to Bishop Filo, the churches should strengthen their openness to ecumenical cooperation, and find ways of strengthening cooperation. At the same time, the spiritual identity of churches and the cultural integrity of Slovakia must be carefully nurtured and safeguarded to avoid dissolution in a new integration. Some of the churches are concerned about the growing penetration of sectarian teachings in the school system, and neo-liberal attitudes in Slovak society, which may undermine traditional moral values.

Ecumenical Council of Churches in the Slovak Republic


Following the independence of the Czech Republic and Slovakia in 1992, the former ecumenical structure in Czechoslovakia split into two parts. The Ecumenical Council of Churches in the Slovak Republic (ECCSR) counts 11 member churches, representing nearly all the non-Catholic churches in the country. The Catholic Bishops' Conference has observer status. The main purpose of the ECCSR is to promote visible Christian unity at the local level through various actions and programmes. The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity has developed into an important event at the national and local levels. Close cooperation between ECCSR and Roman Catholic churches was developed for the study of the Charta Oecumenica, the document produced jointly by the Conference of European Churches and the Council of European Bishops' Conferences (CCEE). The ECCSR plays an important role in representing the minority churches to the Slovak state, and facilitated the preparation of the agreement regulating the legal rights of these religious communities in 2002 (see above). Regular programmtic work of the ECCSR includes an educational programme, a special study on new religious movements, an ecumenical news service, and the ecumenical Round Table programme.

WCC-ECCSR Slovakia Round Table programme


The only regular and substantial programmatic engagement of the WCC with the churches in Slovakia has been through the Slovakia Round Table programme. The Slovakia Round Table programme was founded in 1996 on the initiative of WCC with the ECCSR. Since then, over 500 projects and initiatives have been developed with the churches in areas as diverse as mission, education, youth ministry and social diaconia. Particular emphasis has been given in all areas to formation, training and capacity building of churches and related organizations.

The first Slovakia Round Table evaluation report was completed in 2001, and allowed a detailed and substantial analysis of the development of the Round Table programme and made a number of proposals concerning the future direction of this ecumenical instrument. The evaluation allowed an substantial analysis of the developing role of churches in society in Slovakia during the past decade, and recommended some changes in the functioning and direction of the programme for the future. The main finding of the evaluation was an affirmation of the RT programme as an important instrument of the ECCSR. According to the evaluation team, the RT programme "has made an important contribution to the role the churches play in society". It has strengthened the growing sense of ecumenism among the Slovak churches, enhanced cooperation among church leaders as well as of local congregations and local groups. According to Bishop Filo, the ECCSR has been significantly helped by the establishment of the RT programme, and has strengthened its role and service to churches in the country.

Conclusion


The situation of the churches in Slovakia has generally improved since independence. The agreement with the Slovak state regulates and guarantees minority church rights and relations with the state. The Slovakia Round Table programme has been a significant contribution to the life and witness of the churches in Slovakia during a critical period of church revival and renewal. The evaluation report affirmed the instrument as a primary ecumenical witness in the country, and its recommendations point to a strengthened focus in the future. European Union enlargement and the anticipated political and economic benefits should also assist the churches in their ministries and provide a further encouragement to the existing ecumenical witness. The dual historical and cultural links that co-exist in Slovakia - the Catholic and Protestant West and the Orthodox East - could provide an opportunity for a particular Slovakian synthesis and contribution to Europe and its churches, which has yet to be fully explored.